Olive Oil Cake Recipe

My brother-in-law Heath is living in Kabul, Afghanistan. It’s ridiculous to think of him so far away. It seems like yesterday he was grilling salmon and reindeer sausage on his oversized grill in the backyard of his midtown home in Anchorage. Long tours of duty in Afghanistan are the norm for Heath and his wife Jami (my youngest sister). They both have jobs that take them to that part of the world.

Heath loves to cook and through the positive ability to connect with family and friends through social media, I’ve been following his adventures from afar.

Heath wrote me last week, looking for a new recipe to try.

He said: “There’s a small Italian PX here that has several cheeses, meats and wines. I also have 4 pounds of Danish butter in my fridge. I have a decent selection of herbs and garlic. I have only a little bit of all-purpose flour.  I have time for baking. It is much better than the food in the chow halls.”

In his small living space, Heath has a little convection oven, a crockpot, and a Dutch oven to work with.

The image I had in my head of a kid from Alaska shopping in an Italian store in the middle of Afghanistan swirled around for a day or two. I settled on the idea of a recipe we’ve been using all summer in our cooking classes. It’s an Italian-style olive oil cake. Olive oil replaces butter in a traditional cake and lemon brightens it up. It’s a nice soft cake that accommodates a variety of fruits and sauces to accompany it. I recommended that Heath consider a chocolate sauce.

Heath wrote back, “I’ll check to see if Mohammad can get me a lemon. I can get great chocolate for a sauce at the European PX”.

Now, I am imagining quaint French dinners spilling out from Heath’s little convection oven.

Here is the recipe I sent to him. It is adapted from an old issue of Gourmet magazine and we’ve been using it for years. If you have any extra batter left over, which can happen with varying sizes of loaf pans, put it into a muffin tin and make a few cupcakes.

Heath sent along images of his baking project. He had to grate the lemon with a pocketknife and he had to whip the egg whites with a fork. But, in the end his cake looks pretty good.  He’s looking for other creative recipes.

Hey, Heath – The blueberries are just about ripe here in Alaska. We’ll pick some for you and save them for when you get home.

Olive Oil Cake
Recipe type: Dessert
Makes one cake.
  • ¾ cup good quality olive oil (plus additional for greasing pans)
  • 1 large lemon
  • 1 cup flour
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • ¾ cup plus 1½ tablespoons sugar
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a large loaf pan with some of the olive oil. Finely grate the zest of half of the lemon and whisk this together with the flour. Halve the lemon and squeeze the fresh juice. Set aside 1-1/2 tablespoons of the lemon juice.
  2. Beat the 5 egg yolks with ½-cup sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until the mixture is thick and pale, about 3 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium and add in the olive oil and the reserved lemon juice, beating until just combined. Using a wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture.
  3. Beat the egg whites with ½ teaspoon of salt in another large bowl with cleaned beaters at medium-high speed until foamy, then add in ¼ cup sugar a little at a time, beating, and continue to beat until egg whites just hold soft peaks, about 3 minutes.
  4. Gently fold one-third of the whites into the yolk mixture, then fold in the remaining whites gently but thoroughly.
  5. Transfer the batter to the loaf pan and gently rap against a work surface once or twice to release any air bubbles. Sprinkle the top evenly with the remaining 1-1/2 tablespoons of sugar. Bake until the cake is puffed and golden and a wooden pick or skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool the cake in the loaf pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a thin knife around edge of pan and remove side of pan. Cool the cake to room temperature.